Recap where we are in our travels through Galatians:
Explain the backstory to Galatians.
Explain why Paul’s writing to them… Galatians 1:6-7, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.” Defending “Grace.” from three distortions:
Paul then explains why he’s so passionate about this topic by relaying his personal encounter with grace… Galatians 1:13, “For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it.”
As we noted two weeks ago… What changed Paul’s life (his present life in Judaism into the former) was not knowing more about God’s grace… What changed Paul’s life was the moment he experienced God’s grace “through the revelation of Jesus Christ!”
It had been God’s grace experienced by Paul in that he could now have a relationship with Jesus that had freed him from his miserable former life in religion, liberated him from the guilt of his past mistakes, and had now filled his life with meaning and purpose.
Keep in mind the transformation occurred in Paul’s life the day he met Jesus (Grace) and his life continued to change each and every day he walked with Jesus (Grace). Grace is more than an idea to know… It’s a relationship to be experienced! We come to know grace by knowing Jesus! And yet, the truth is that many people haven’t fully experienced grace because (while knowing about Jesus) they don’t actually know Him.
For example there are many people who claim to know Jesus when all they’ve actually done is Facebook stalked Him! Never forget information never replaces intimacy!
I have found that grace is often distorted in our lives in the subtlest of ways…
First, it happens when a person begins basing the existence of their relationship with Jesus on a list of things they’ve either done or are presently doing. The answer to the question “Do you know Jesus?” goes something like this… “Yes! I prayed the prayer… I was baptized… I read my Bible… I have a morning devotion… I pray before meals and bed… I’m a member of this church… I give financially or am engaged in charity or missions work… I teach Sunday School, etc…”
Or grace becomes distorted when a person begins basing the health of their walk with Jesus on what they aren’t doing. The answer to the question “How’s your walk with Jesus?” goes something like this… “Great! I’ve stopped drinking or I’ve quit smoke… I’ve stopped hanging around my party friends… I’ve stopped cussing… I’ve stopped sleeping with my boyfriend or girlfriend… I recently gave up secular music, R-rated movies, and HBO shows… I’ve finally been able to kick my porn addiction back to one viewing a week, etc…”
You see… Without even realizing it many people subtly base their Christian life on a “Grace, And” or “Grace, But” distortion which is silly because a relationship with the person of Jesus fundamentally has zero to do with the things you are or aren’t doing for Him!
No relationship operates this way… “How are you and your wife doing?” “We’re doing really well. I’ve started coming home at night. I provide a roof over her head. I gave her money to buy a new outfit…” “Oh, we’re doing really well. I’ve stopped beating her. I gave up my girlfriend on the side. I’ve stopped gabling away the grocery money on Draft Kings.”
Sadly, the reason people fall into these Gospel distortions is because they’ve boughten into the religious trap that transforming their behavior through the things they do or the sacrifices they make for Jesus will some how enable them to grow closer to Him…
When the true Gospel of “Grace.” (the one Paul is so passionately defending) presents the exact opposite dynamic… It’s only by growing closer to Jesus that a person’s life is transformed. Our vertical life impacts the horizontal and not the other way around.
Remember… The Christian experience and our behavioral transformation has nothing to do with what you do or what you don’t do… Instead, it’s completely based on Who you know!
Paul’s opening is clear that his religious zeal, his obedience to the Law (the “Grace, And” and “Grace, But” moral structure) had only served to blind him to the reality that while he thought he was pleasing God he was in actuality opposing God and in turn persecuting the people in whom God loved! The results of religion is that he was an enemy to God and a jerk!
Galatians 1:15-16a, “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles…”
In order to understand what Paul is describing in these two verses please note what God had already done and what He was now determined to do in his life.
First, according to the verb tense, it’s clear God had “separated Paul from his mother’s womb” (“separated” means “to mark off from others by boundaries or to appoint”) and He had already “called him through His grace” (“called” means “to call or invite by name”).
Though Paul has described his “former conduct” in Judaism it seems he skips over his conversion simply stating that from conception God had a plan for his life and that His calling on the road to Damascus came only as a result of “His grace.” Note: This word “through” in the Greek means “the reason by which something is or is not done.” Grace was the mechanism and not his “former conduct in Judaism.”
Then Paul transitions to the very thing God was now wanting to do in and through his life… Let’s unpack this… He writes, “It pleased God (“when God was ready”)… to reveal (“disclose what before was unknown”) His Son in me…”
For what purpose? “That (“in order that”) I might preach Him (“herald Jesus”) among the Gentiles…” God’s plan for Paul’s life! According to Acts 9:10-18 it had been through a prophetic word given to Paul by Ananias just days after his conversion, that the Lord made it clear that he was “a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles.”
Now Paul recounts his response to this unexpected revelation… Galatians 1:16b-17, “I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.”
Paul is basically telling his Galatian audience that the grace of God was as freeing as the plan of God was confounding! God’s plan was to use Paul (a “Hebrew of the Hebrews”) in a way he could have never imagined… To “preach Jesus among the Gentiles!”
Paul then explains that following this unexpected news and after spending a few days with the disciples in Damascus he retreated into Arabia for approximately three years. Note: It is likely during this time that Paul received his before mentioned “revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Keep in mind… In saying “I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood nor go up to Jerusalem to the apostles” Paul is further hammering home the point that it had been Jesus Himself who had taught him the Gospel independent of any other “Christian” influences.
Before we continue I think it’s important to point out that it was only when Paul had quit trying to earn God’s favor and when he had finally submitted to Jesus and experienced God’s freeing grace that God’s plan for his life finally came into view.
Galatians 1:18-20, “Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. (Now concerning the things which I write to you, indeed, before God, I do not lie.)”
After his conversion, these three years in Arabia, and a short time ministering in Damascus (which ended with an assassination attempt by the Jews leading to his escape - Acts 9:20-25) Paul tells the Galatians that he went to Jerusalem to see Peter. Additionally, he says it was during these same fifteen days that he also met with no other apostle but James.
Paul’s point… Before I went out into Gentile communities, before I became Missionary Paul and preached any message unto you I first met and consulted with Peter and James. In a sense Paul is making it clear the Apostles knew what God had done in his life and they confirmed that the Gospel message he had received by “revelation from Jesus” was legit.
Galatians 1:21-24, “Afterward I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ. But they were hearing only, “He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God in me.
According to Acts 9, following these fifteen days in Jerusalem with Peter and James, the leaders of the church decide it best to send Paul to his home town of Tarsus in Cilicia where he would spend approximately the next ten years living in obscurity.
And yet, according to Acts 11:19-26, Barnabas (who had come to help the growing church in Antioch of Syria) ended up going to Tarsus to recruit Paul to help teach the people.
Galatians 2:1-10, “Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and also took Titus with me. And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain. Yet not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.
And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.
But from those who seemed to be something—whatever they were, it makes no difference to me; God shows personal favoritism to no man—for those who seemed to be something added nothing to me. But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.”
Before we get to the text it’s important we first address an important question often debated by Biblical scholars… What trip to Jerusalem is Paul recounting in this passage?
Two commonly held positions:
1. Paul is recounting the events of his second trip to Jerusalem in Acts 11:30 when the church in Antioch sent he and Barnabas to Jerusalem with a relief package to the believers suffering from both persecution and a famine that had gripped Judea.
Note: There is no record in Acts of what took place in Jerusalem during this visit other than Acts 12:25 when we’re told that after “they had fulfilled their ministry” Paul and Barnabas returned to Jerusalem bringing with them John Mark.
2. Paul is recounting the events of his third trip to Jerusalem in Acts 15 (which followed he and Barnabas’ first missionary journey into Galatia) initiated because a group of Jews had come to the church in Antioch preaching a distorted Gospel. This trip resulted in what we historically know as the Jerusalem Council convened to deal with this issue.
Why is this point important? Today, as in Paul’s time, there are those within Christianity who attempt to place qualifications on Christian liberty by pointing to the very restrictions the Apostles laid out during the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15.
Over and over you’ll hear this very rational used as the justification for the limitation of Christian liberty, “Because the Apostles instructed the Gentiles believers to lay aside certain liberties by ‘abstaining from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood’ so as not to offend Jewish believers, if your actions could potentially cause another brother to stumble you should also abstain from such a liberty.”
In a sense those who take such a position claim that while the Grace Jesus provides does bestow the believer incredible freedom the implementation and therefore enjoyment of these liberties are ultimately subject to the preference of the weakest believers among us.
And yet, here’s the rub… If Paul is recounting an experience in Acts 11 and is writing to the Galatians before the Jerusalem Council then this position gains a certain level of credibility. However, if Paul is recounting the events of Acts 15 and is therefore writing to the churches of Galatia after the ruling of the Jerusalem Council his obvious omission of the Apostles exhortation for the Gentile believers to abstain from these things eliminates the Biblical justification for the limitation of Christian liberty in order to “prefer the weaker brother.”
Before we continue let me present the case as to why there is no way Paul is referencing the events of Acts 11 and is undoubtedly discussing the events of Acts 15 placing his letter to the Galatians sometime following the Jerusalem Council:
Notice how Paul opens… “After fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and also took Titus with me…” Though this word “again” can indicate a second trip, it could just as easily be used to describe the third (it only means it wasn’t his first trip to Jerusalem).
Also note Paul says that Barnabas was his traveling companion along with Titus. While Acts 11 specifically mentions only “Paul and Barnabas” the account Luke provides in Acts 15 clearly states that “Paul and Barnabas and certain others should go up to Jerusalem” providing room for Titus in the third trip but not necessarily the second.
It’s also important to point out why Paul says he went to Jerusalem in the first place… “I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles… And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus.” Once again in Acts 11 Paul was sent by the church in Antioch when in this instance he clearly went by “revelation.”
Though it’s true this event could have taken place in Acts 11 because Luke’s record provides no details of their time in Jerusalem, the reason Paul provides for this trip (“false brethren secretly brought in to spy out our liberty”) is completely inline with the events of Acts 15.
Finally, and what I would see as the defining bit of evidence, is the fact that Paul says this trip occurred “after fourteen years.” Because we know the famine recorded in Acts 11 hit the region of Judea in 45 AD it would be impossible that he’s recounting the events of Acts 11 as he would have had to experience his conversion before Christ had even died of the cross!
As we noted in our “Prologue to Galatians” the limitation of the liberty “Grace.” affords in order to maintain Christian unity was not what the Apostles were communicating in Acts 15 and this point seems to be substantiated by Paul’s omission of these things in Galatians 2.
It’s only left to reason that the Apostles presented these suggestions because they were fundamentally concerned with a growing Gentile church’s ability to reach unbelieving Jews in the specific areas of Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia and not for the maintaining of Christian unity.
Biblically speaking the limitation of Christian liberty should never be a matter of maintaining unity within the church, but rather a concession a Christian makes in order to reach the lost.
In conclusion… There is a very vocal group of Christians who hold to the position that if a freedom afforded by Grace offends a fellow believer it is our duty to abstain from that particular liberty. I’ve even heard it asked when making this case, “Do you love your liberty more than your fellow brother?” Of course not! But love isn’t the issue at hand.
You see while this position is fraught with problems (it’s not Biblical, who’s the arbitrator of such things, where does the limitation of liberty end if the criteria is offending someone) and in many ways is categorically unfair I would simply ask, “Are you so weak in the flesh that you would limit the liberty Jesus died on the cross to provide your fellow brother?”
Sadly, I have found that those who seek to restrict Christian liberty are rarely the weaker brother, but instead the legalist who’s failed to experience the freeing nature of grace for themselves. Damian Kyle, “The one thing a legalist hates is free Christians!”
For example… I’ve never had a brother struggling with alcoholism confront me concerning my enjoyment of alcohol (and if he did I would forgo that liberty when in his presence out of love for my brother). Instead, the only people who’ve ever expressed a problem with my enjoyment of alcohol have been Christians who’ve never had a drop of alcohol.
As a youth pastor I never had a young man come to me and express a struggle with lust because of the outfits some of the young ladies in our church were wearing. Instead, it was always older women who’s type for Christian modesty was June Cleaver.
Understand, while I don’t believe the freedom “Grace.” affords should be a license towards recklessness or even licentiousness, I agree with Allen Rigg that “our responsibility to not ‘stumble’ others does not mean allowing an intolerant minority to hijack church culture.”
Friends, Christian liberty is something we should all be willing to fight to maintain because it only exists as a result of the atoning work of Jesus on the cross and to restrict such liberty in any way is to undermine the very nature of grace itself! “Grace.” is a hill to die on!
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